This page is to explain some of the projects I’m working on right now, or which I may or may not start working on in the future.
You might also want to look at my list of potential research projects, which I am probably not going to get around to doing, but which may be useful for prospective PhD candidates looking for an idea of something they could usefully do.
Old Irish Harp Transcriptions Project
This has been my main artistic and research project since Autumn 2019. I am searching for, identifying, categorising and analysing musical notations which appear to have been written down as live transcriptions of the playing of old Irish harp tradition-bearers. So far the only person I have identified as doing this is Edward Bunting, but I hope that in time I may identify such transcriptions made by other people in the late 18th or early 19th century.
By “transcriptions”, I am referring to notations that seem to have been written live, at speed, as a direct response to what a traditional informant was actually playing, in real time. I am distinguishing these from “copies” which are written more slowly and carefully, with deliberate thought, and also “arrangements” which have creative adjustments to the melody and added accompaniment, for the piano.
In January 2020, I wrote a blog post titled Old Irish harp transcriptions project, which marked the beginnings of writing up my work here.
- I have made a tune-list spreadsheet listing all the tunes in Bunting’s transcription notebooks and printed collections, and indicating both the nature of any transcriptions, and the tags or attributions given to them.
- I have been compiling PDF indexes and text-transcripts of the key transcription notebooks: Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections MS4.29, MS4.33.1, and others.
- I have been studying individual tunes, writing up my conclusions here on this website. In October 2020, I made a kind of half-way-point interim summary, and in April 2021 I made a summary of the second major section of the project.
- I have been making YouTube demonstration videos of the transcription notation realised as old Irish harp performances.
The main research aims of this project are to narrow down the evidence for “what is old Irish harp performance style?” By ruthlessly excluding consideration of harp tunes that are passed down to us as piano arrangements, or through the fiddle, pipe or song tradition, I hope that we can get a more focussed view of the idiomatic Irish harp style which came to an end in the early 19th century. Creating a view of what the harp style is like will help inform revival attempts.
Live (online) events
In 2021 I did two online live presentations which built on the work I have been doing here on the Old Irish Harp Transcriptions Project.
The first was a free online talk, on Sunday 23rd May 2021 at 5pm. I gave the Cruit Éireann Annual Lecture, with the title “Edward Bunting as Collector”. This talk was more general and focused on the nature of Bunting’s collecting work from the start in 1792 right through to the writing of the annotations probably in the early 1840s just before he died. The event was recorded:
The second was for the Historical Harp Society of Ireland, for festival ticket-holders. I did an online workshop at Scoil na gCláirseach on Wednesday 28th July 2021 at 5.15pm. The title was “An introduction to Edward Bunting’s manuscripts” and this talk concentrated on the harp transcriptions, discussing how to recognise harp transcriptions in the manuscripts, and how to read and interpret and understand them.